(This is part 2 in a three part series. For part one please start here.)
Women are understandably reluctant to talk about the toll of pandemic stress. Representatives from employers are hauntingly silent. It is impossible to believe that industries will not suffer if up to 1/3 of their employees feel they have will have no choice but to quit should another lock down close schools and day care centres.
“The cost of losing someone to a company is significant because they have been trained and they have developed expertise,” says Alison Braithwaite, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo whose research concerns the how and why of women leaving the corporate world. “Companies have made investments to access that expertise and they most definitely lose that investment when someone leaves.”
It may just be too early for companies to even be able to determine the costs of COVID-19 employee losses. Other experts suggest that the focus on the problem has been too narrow, that a lack of recognition to the far-reaching effects of the issue will leave both the economy and society far more vulnerable as a result.
“The discussion about Covid-19 causing a she-cession instead of a recession generally surrounds work in the service industry, lower-wage workers and unsalaried workers,” says Professor Nancy Worth, also of the University of Waterloo. Worth’s research includes areas of precarious work, social reproduction, inequalities, and age. “When it comes to low paid service work, it is assumed that businesses will hire more people when they need to, but right now, they don’t need to. It is relatively early in the process, we are just seeing the numbers for September now after all the changes that were going in the summer. The longer term effects of this brain drain are definitely going to be hug and they are definitely going to be felt across every segment of the economy. We just don’t know how bad it is going to be yet.”
Professor Worth shares the position that a national childcare system is a necessary piece of Canadian economic recovery.
“It is definitely part of the solution,” she said.” All we need to do is look at the data coming out of Quebec and their $10 per day system and how it has kept women in the labour market. It is also paying for itself in terms of the larger tax situation and the revenue the province can collect as a result. It is not a perfect system, not everyone has been able to access day care when they need it, but it is certainly a model Canada can improve on if it could match it.”
If lack of access to day care creates employment problems for corporates entities, it is tempting to put responsibility for the solution on corporate employers. That is not a solution Bezanson would recommend.
“The effects of their employees care situations definitely have an impact on their bottom line, on their productivity,” said Dr. Kate Bezanson co-author of a position paper that champions the creation of a national childcare system. “That’s why we need a government-managed public education system that provinces, territories and First Nations Communities have jurisdiction over that extends down to the early years. Many people believe that childcare should be provided at the workplace by the workplace, but they don’t realize that about 75% of businesses in Canada have fewer than 10 employees. It’s just a fundamental misreading of the structure of the labour market to assume we even have the capacity to offer childcare at the workplace level.”
If businesses cannot, for the most part, provide childcare in the same way they provide access to an extended health plan, or retirement investments, what are they doing to lighten the load on their women employees? The final segment of this series will look at that question.